A thousand words beyond the Hill

Andreas Fuhrmann

Twenty-eight years old, 38 feet-8 inches wide and 150 feet-2 inches long, the Midland Star works the Tennessee River non-stop from Paducah to Chattanooga, Tenn.

The only time a tow boat stops working is when it ‘s being repaired. But the crew changes every 28 days.

“To some, it’s 28 days of rehab,” said Billy D. Wray Jr. “To others, it’s nice to get away from home.”

Wray is a lead man who has been working tows, the string of barges the tow boats push, for two years.

The crew of nine are on for six hours and off for six, except for the Midland Star’s cook and engineer.

Her cook, Clyde “Lou” Vinson, starts his morning at about four and has each of the three meals ready at the same time every day.

Dean Morris, her engineer, works whenever he is needed. When anything breaks, he fixes it.

“When the toilet breaks, I’m a plumber,” Morris said. “When the air conditioning breaks, I’m an a/c repairman; the microwave, an electrician.”

The rest of the crew doesn’t mind the hours. They say they get used to it.

Captain Jeff Operle, whose father was a tow boat captain, says the hours are based on the needs of the captain and pilot, who share the responsibility of keeping the large vessels on constant watch.

Andreas Fuhrmann is a senior photojournalism major from Bowling Green. He can be reached at [email protected]